Giant banner deployed by the Waswanipi Cree First Nation on the shore of Quénonisca lake near the Broadback valley.

Giant banner deployed by the Waswanipi Cree First Nation on the shore of Quénonisca lake near the Broadback valley. 

 

One of the last intact forests in Quebec has been making headlines. All this thanks to the Cree Nation of Waswanipi, located close to James Bay, who have vowed to fight against all forestry companies wanting to log inside the pristine forests of their ancestral lands.

The Cree Nation ancestral land in Quebec has been heavily impacted by the logging industry and now 90% of the Waswanipi Cree land has been either logged or fragmented. Since 2002, logging companies have extracted over 40 million cubic meters of wood from Cree land. As you can imagine, the last remaining 10% of forest that is still pristine is extremely valuable.

While the Quebec and federal governments are teaming up with the logging industry to invest in marketing campaigns to try and clean up their image in Canada, the Waswanipi Cree has sounded the alarm. The community is stepping up to tell their story to national and international journalists about what it would mean if forestry companies were to log inside the remaining pristine forest. The stories were told through a media expedition in late August, led by the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi and assisted by Greenpeace. The expedition allowed journalists to see for themselves the destruction already happening in neighbouring areas.

Cree alarm echoes throughout the world: “The Broadback is not for sale”

Waswanipi youth paint a 'Save The broadback' banner

 

Last week, Agence France Presse released an article that appeared in the media all over the world: “Native tribe fights to save Boreal forest in Quebec”. Just before that, the Montreal Gazette published two articles on the importance of protecting the Broadback Valley for the Waswanipi Cree, but also for global biodiversity and climate. The previous week, independent news site Ricochet launched a series of three articles on Waswanipi’s determination to protect their land.

If there is one thing to take away from the Waswanipi Cree, it’s that they won’t back down and are prepared to defend their ancestral land no matter what the cost. With the full support of their Chief, Band Council and the trappers of Waswanipi, Vice-Chief Mandy Gull, Master Trapper Don Saganash and many others who guided the expedition, the message was crystal clear: “The Broadback is not for sale!”

Their message is even more poignant when you realize that our federal and provincial ministers are bending over backwards to sell the Quebec logging industry on an international scale. While neither Greenpeace nor the Cree First Nation are against logging in general, it seems the various levels of government still need to be reminded that the industry just cannot exploit the land indiscriminately and that these last intact areas deserve to be protected. 

Pristine wilderness

Intact Boreal forest along Broadback river. 

 

When looking at the beauty of an untouched forest that has never been subject to human interference, you can only but be moved by it all. For hundreds of kilometres, there’s not a road, not a clearcut, not a mine, not a power line, not a pipeline… just pure wilderness. Calving grounds for the woodland caribou and the last refuge of several other endangered species including the wolverine, marten and bald eagle, the Broadback Valley is a perfect spot for a Cree heritage park. Looking at the deep attachment the Waswanipi Crees have toward their land and their determination to protect it, I still remain hopeful.

But now is the time for the Quebec government to respect its commitment and create a large protected area in the Broadback Valley. Let’s stand together with this brave community to save these last intact areas, before they're gone forever.

Don Saganash, a tallyman in the Waswanipi community, next to the Broadback River on his trapline.